Bay Ridge

Gentile Tells Council: Don’t criminalize chokeholds by NYPD

Says he’ll vote against bill outlawing practice

November 20, 2014 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Councilmember Vincent Gentile, a former prosecutor, says a council bill outlawing choke holds by cops will handcuff police and endanger lives. Photo courtesy Gentile’s office

A bill introduced in the City Council to criminalize chokeholds by police officers would unfairly handcuff cops and interfere with their ability to do their jobs, according to Councilmember Vincent Gentile, who said he plans to vote against the proposed legislation.

Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst), a former prosecutor, issued a statement in reaction to a bill introduced last week by Councilmember Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) that would make it a crime for a police officer to use a chokehold on a citizen. Under Lancman’s bill, a cop using a chokehold would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor and would face up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine if convicted.

It’s a wrongheaded approach, said Gentile, who served as an assistant district attorney in Queens before entering politics in the 1990s. “Most of us leave for work each morning knowing the odds are in our favor that we’ll return home alive at night, but the men and women of the New York City Police Department can’t be so sure. Police officers who risk their lives on a daily basis need every tool at their disposal when they come face to face with a dangerous situation. That is why I am strongly against any legislation that would handcuff the NYPD,” he said.

The legislation would be “placing unnecessary burdens on the police department,” Gentile added.

Chokeholds have been prohibited by the NYPD since 1993, but there is no law against the practice.

Following the death of Eric Garner, 43, who died on Staten Island in July after cops held him in a chokehold while trying to take him into custody on charges of selling illegal cigarettes, the NYPD announced that it would retrain officers.

Garner’s death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner.

But Lancman charged that retraining cops isn’t the only step that needs to be taken.

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“Relying on NYPD policy to eliminate chokeholds isn’t working very well. We need to up the ante,” Lancman told the New York Daily News on Wednesday.

Councilmember Robert Cornegy is one of the bill’s supporters. “When police power is used to the people’s detriment, we must respond accordingly, in this case, by clarifying the law,” Cornegy (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant) told The Wall Street Journal.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has stated his opposition to the Lancman bill.

“I don’t think it should be made a matter of a legal prohibition. I think it should be handled by department policy,” the Daily News quoted the mayor as saying.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), issued a statement accusing the council of meddling.

“This bill is unnecessary.  There are already state laws, enacted with great care and consideration, that govern the use of any kind of force by police officers.  The council’s meddling and uninformed proposals will prevent police officers from taking the actions that they reasonably believe they should to secure the situation in encounters with potentially armed and dangerous suspects. These proposals will endanger both the police and the public alike,” Lynch said.

The PBA president also blasted the council. “The negative anti-police message that this out-of- control City Council consistently sends is a disincentive to pro-active policing that will leave cops standing on the corner like potted palms,” he said.

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